Prior to Tampa Bay’s matchup at Amalie Arena against the San Jose Sharks, Lightning coach Jon Cooper called San Jose a “benchmark” team much like the Chicago squad the Bolts lost to in a shootout on Tuesday.
“These guys are elite,” Cooper said of the Sharks following Thursday’s morning skate, “from the coaching staff all the way down, so this is a really good test.”
The Lightning didn't measure up to the Sharks on Thursday night falling 2-1.
Tyler Kennedy’s first goal of the season 10:37 into the second period stood up as the game winner, the Sharks holding on in the third period in front of a crowd of 19,004.
San Jose (9-7-2, 20 points) outshot the Lightning 39-33 and held a 31-17 advantage after two periods.
“We can’t give up that many opportunities in the first period and kind of play catchup,” Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop said. “I thought we played a good third period, but when you take the first couple periods off, it’s tough to win games.”
The Lightning (11-4-2, 24 points) fall to 5-3-1 against teams from the Western Conference and lose two games in a row for the first time all season.
The Bolts had a four-game win streak at Amalie Arena snapped.
“(San Jose) played better than we did. That’s it,” Coper said.
After a scoreless first period, the Sharks drew first blood 5:23 into the second, taking advantage of a bad giveaway deep in the Bolts zone by Brian Boyle. San Jose’s Joe Thornton pounced on the gift, wristing a well-placed shot past Bishop from the slot for a 1-0 Sharks lead.
“Instead of making a poised play, I thought I saw a winger and obviously it was a pretty good player on the other team,” Boyle said.
San Jose went up two goals with a power-play tally later in the second. The Sharks caught the Lightning in a change, and Brent Burns fed a long pass ahead to Kennedy, who got behind the Lightning defense. Kennedy took his time, sniping a shot past Bishop to make it 2-0 San Jose.
Burns and Sharks goalie Antti Niemi assisted on Kennedy’s goal.
“For whatever reason, we didn’t wake up until the third,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “…Sometimes I think we are overthinking plays and a couple of them cost us tonight, but we have to be more prepared to play.”
The Lightning debuted their brand-new black jerseys on Thursday, the first time the Bolts have worn black since the 2010-11 season when the team advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Lightning also won their only Stanley Cup (2004) wearing black unis.
The Bolts couldn’t recapture that magic Thursday, however.
Stamkos scored his team-leading 11th goal of the season midway through the third period to breathe life into a lethargic Lightning attack. Andrej Sustr sent an innocuous-looking shot Niemi’s way, and Stamkos got his stick on the puck to deflect it over the Sharks goalie and into the net to cut San Jose’s lead to 2-1.
Sustr and Valtteri Filppula tallied assists on the Bolts’ lone goal.
“For me, our puck pursuit, our desperation, everything was way different in the third period than it was in the first two,” Cooper said.
Tampa Bay had a 5-on-3 for 1:11 early in the third period but couldn’t capitalize, Niemi turning away several great scoring chances for the Bolts.
“We had a chance on the 5-on-3 to get one back, and you look back now, that probably bites us on the backside a little bit,” Cooper said. “That one goes in then we get another one so maybe we’re still playing. To me it was very similar to the Chicago game. It just kind of flowed the same way. We couldn’t get this one to overtime.”
Niemi was spectaculuar in goal for San Jose, stopping 32-of-33 shots.
“It’s one of those nights,” Bishop said. “Their goalie played well. He made some big saves. It’s a tough game. Sometimes, it doesn’t go your way, and, tonight, we didn’t have luck on our side.”
Bishop was equally impressive with 37 saves but lost his second decision in a row.
“We haven’t played the way we’re capable of,” Boyle said. “It shows you how important our goaltending’s been…We’ve got to be better. We’ve got to elevate our game and just play.”
The Sharks continue to confound the Bolts, winning three straight in the series. The Lightning haven’t defeated San Jose since the 2011-12 season, a 6-5 overtime victory on Feb. 16, 2012.
The teams didn’t play during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season.
Tampa Bay wraps up its mini-homestand Saturday against the New York Islanders at Amalie Arena. The Lightning will wear their black jerseys for the second straight game. Following their game versus the Islanders, the Bolts hit the road for a three game set starting Monday against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.